EDITORS’ NOTE: The following sermon was preached in Littleton, Colo., April 25, by Robert Norris at Ken Caryl Baptist Church, which had 13 students at Columbine High School when 15 lives were claimed in an April 20 shooting spree. Norris is interim pastor of the church, located less than two miles from Columbine High, and director of missions for the Denver Association of Southern Baptist Churches.
LITTLETON, Colo. (BP)–The carnage we witnessed this past week at Columbine High School has forever changed our lives. The comfort and safety of our suburban existence has been rocked to its foundation. What could not happen here has happened here. Our minds have been invaded with the images of flowers, banners and crosses in the park. We have been bombarded with the lights and cameras of the world’s media. We have witnessed the tears, hugs and songs from numerous memorial services. For many of our children, the screams, gunshots and explosions heard at their school fills their thoughts. I believe in my mind, the images that seem most dramatic are those of the many who were willing to lay down their lives for others. Their great display of love’s ultimate sacrifice reminded me of Jesus’ words concerning love recorded in John, chapter 15 [in the New Testament].
In verse 9, Jesus says, “ As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” Imagine with me a father’s love for his son. Most of us who have sons love them and do everything possible to bring them up right. Today I would guess that there are at least two fathers in this community who are second-guessing themselves. Many of us are also second-guessing them and our minds are filled with questions. What could have gone so wrong? How could they not see the warning signs? Did their sons ever experience the eternal love of God? God never had to wonder if Jesus would turn out all right. He had been exposed to eternal love. He was eternal love. Jesus showed his eternal love for us by dying on the cross “while we were yet sinners.” The greatest love, the love we need to abide in at this time and always, is an Eternal Love.
As we look to verse 10, we are shown that God’s love is greater because it is a Structural Love. Most of the time, we think we can handle our lives just fine on our own. We just don’t realize our need for structure until the unthinkable happens. Our world system strives to impose its own structure on our lives. Many will advocate more laws to prevent the unthinkable, but all the laws we have written couldn’t keep the events at Columbine from happening. So many of our laws were broken by these two boys. Man’s law apparently meant nothing to them. They were raised by the “Me” generation. The generation of no laws, no structure, no prayer and no commandments. They were influenced by the generation that has allowed parents to murder their own unborn children. Why are we surprised when children kill other children? They were shaped by the generation that took the commands of God off the walls of our schools and took prayer out of the classroom. Why are we surprised that they had no regard for the law or for the lives of others?
God offers us the structure of his love. If we will keep his commands, we will be at home in his love! Jesus lived a life of obedience to his Father’s commands, and so can we through his power. In verse 5, Jesus says, “… apart from Me you can do nothing.” I do not suggest that we do this in our own strength — that is impossible — but in Christ we can abide in his love. Abiding in him and living in obedience to him will give us all the structure we need to experience his great love, even in tragedy.
When love is structured by God, it frees us from the confines of the false, fake and flawed love of this world. The result of this freedom is a Joyful Love. In verse 11, we see that Jesus wants us to have his joy, so that our joy may be full! You may be asking, “How can you speak of joy at a time like this?” I would say to you, “How can I not?” James [in the New Testament] tells us to: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing or your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” Without this joyful love, we cannot endure and we will always come up lacking. Oh friends, we cannot afford to come up lacking in the midst of this horrible situation.
But, this greater love that is readily available to us is not for us to hoard. Verse 12 speaks of a Communal Love. Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us. You may be thinking, “Well, he was speaking to his disciples in that verse; surely you are not suggesting that we are to love these two killers, are you?” No, I don’t have to suggest it. Jesus does that for me in Matthew 5:44 when he tells us not only to love our enemies, but to pray for them as well! These two boys were part of the world God so loved. God hates sin, but loves sinners. I wonder, did anyone ever tell Eric [Harris] and Dylan [Klebold, the two youth accused of killing 13 others at Columbine High School April 20 before taking their own lives,] of God’s love for them? [The Apostle] Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:15 “… that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” If God can save the chief of sinners, there is that possibility for anyone to enter into this communal love. There can be no greater love.
This love is greater because it is a Sacrificial Love. Verses 13-15 reveal the bottom line for greater love — laying down one’s life. God required the greatest sacrifice from his Son in order to pay for our sins. Because of this, Jesus tells his disciples that the greatest love is the kind that will cause us to die for our friends. It should not surprise us that this is the greatest expression of love; it is commonly seen in times of crisis. Just look to the law enforcement officers who responded Tuesday to the calls for help. They were willing to risk their lives to save the lives of our children. Consider any parent of the teens who died that day. They would gladly give their lives in place of their son or daughter. Look to [slain teacher] Dave Sanders, a true example of one who laid down his life for others. This love that God offers is greater because it is a sacrificial love.
This love is greater because it is a Fruitful Love. In verse 16, Jesus tells us, for the seventh time in chapter 15, to go and bear fruit. What kind of fruit will come out of this tragic event? The politicians will want more laws. The educators will want safer schools. Parents will want more discipline. The media will want more interviews. There are even those who will want more credit for helping. I guess the question we need to ask is, “What kind of fruit does God want to see borne?”
I believe the Lord is most pleased with all those who are giving testimony of his love in their lives. What stirring examples of fruit bearing we are seeing from survivors and victims alike. The gospel of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed openly, even on network television. People are openly praying, even on the school grounds. The name of Jesus is being lifted up and people are being drawn to him. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers [in the Old Testament] after they found out their provider was also their long lost brother, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Finally, this love is greater because it is a Beneficial Love. Verse 16 reveals again that God wants to bless us by answering our prayers. Let us pray for God’s beneficial love in three areas: 1) In the area of healing: physical, emotional and spiritual. Pray for physical healing for the injured, emotional healing for our children and ourselves and spiritual healing for our community and our nation. 2) In the area of revival: for individuals, schools, churches, cities, states and our nation. It is possible that this terrible tragedy could be the catalyst for a sweeping revival that will change the history of our world. Let us pray that God might fan the flames of revival in our hearts. 3) In the area of having a greater love for those who are not just like us. One of the churches in our area received a call this week from someone who had visited the church some years ago. The person had never returned to the church because they were offended by the presence of a teenage boy with green-dyed hair. Such a youth should not be allowed in the house of God was the stance taken by the caller. I say to you that every person, regardless of age, color or style of dress must be welcome in our churches. Wouldn’t it have been better to have had these two young men sitting in our church learning about the love of God, rather than elsewhere making pipe bombs? Jesus, during his ministry on this earth, reached out to the outcast of society. We as the modern-day church have often failed to follow our Lord’s example.
In order to share this greater love with a hurting world, we must make prayer a consuming passion. We must make the Bible a light to our path once again. And we must possess a boldness in our witness, so that we may see many souls come to Christ. They will come because they see something worthwhile in us; they will see a greater love.